Now before anyone goes banging on the blog door and screaming: “Your choices aren’t literature!”, what I really mean is The Worst Mothers in Fiction. But ‘Fiction’ makes it sound less real, and the interesting thing I find about women portrayed in these books, particularly, is that the characteristics of these evil or amoral mothers must in some way reflect our real fears – otherwise we wouldn’t respond to these books the way we do, right?
When I was 12 or 13, I chose a book from my mum’s bookshelf that I had been too ‘chicken’ to pick up before, mainly for the ’70s black covers and the innocent wide-eyed beings surrounded by ghostly mists. Flowers in the Attic was my first venture into Virginia Andrews’ crazy, messed-up world of dysfunctional families and I was totally hooked. Corinne Dollanganger is my second pick for Worst Mother – a sparkling, blonde, blue-eyed beauty who is the ‘perfect’ maternal figure for her four Dollanganger children to worship. That is, until Daddy dies and the money from the million-dollar mansion is gone. Rather than consider working or asking friends for help, Corinne hotfoots it back to her parent’s multi-million dollar estate with kidlets in tow, a place she vowed never to return to after her own father kicked her out years before. What appears to have turned her desperate mind to returning to the estate is a letter confirming that Corinne’s father is sick doesn’t have much longer to live. It is only when he dies, that Corinne will receive the inheritance due to her, provided that she doesn’t have any offspring with the man that caused the family feud all those years ago. Of course, Corinne has had four children to this man, so she decides to hide the children in the attic with the help of her incredibly strict mother (the children’s maternal grandmother) and wait for her father to die before they can come out of hiding. Days turn into months, months turn into years, and the ‘Flowers’ in the attic lie wilting and eventually forgotten by their own mother, who has been seduced by the promise of money and the return to the prestigious family fold. Flowers in the Attic haunted me for many years to come, particularly the vision of the children eating the powdered donuts laced with arsenic. It’s why I can’t eat cinnamon donuts to this day.
My third and final award for Worst Mother in literature goes to a character in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy, Coraline. Namely, Coraline’s Other Mother, whom Coraline meets upon discovery of a door that leads to a parallel version of her home and family. Coraline’s real mother and father are terribly busy with household chores and other work, and don’t really pay as much attention to Coraline as Coraline would like, so the Other Mother with her awesome ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ meals and amazing gifts and general showering of affection on Coraline is a welcome distraction. Until Coraline is tired and wants to go back to her real home…that’s when things start to get a little bit sinister. “But this IS your real home,” says the Other Mother. Because everything IS better there, provided Coraline is happy to have buttons sewn in place of her own eyes…
Uggh. Too creepy.
We all love to hate on mothers in literature, it seems! I’m sure there is at least one well-known book out there, however, where the father is the evil-doer. And I intend to find it!